DVD Picks & Passes 02.15.2009

Shaun the Sheep: Back in the Ba-a-ath (2009) -Pick

Wallace & Gromit: A Close Shave (1995) -Pick

Wallace & Gromit: The Wrong Trousers (1993) -Pick

Wallace & Gromit: A Grand Day Out (1989) -Pick

New this week on DVD: More stop-motion animated family entertainment from Aardman Animations!

The best news: Shaun the Sheep is back — Back in the Ba-a-ath. Following last year’s “Shaun the Sheep: Off the Baa!” “Back in the Ba-a-ath” is the second North American DVD release of Shaun’s delightful British television series. (Shaun’s stateside distributor is Lyons/Hit Entertainment.)

Unlike the spooky Coraline, which could easily freak out even some older kids, “Shaun the Sheep” is ideal entertainment for the entire family. Each disc features eight charming short episodes about seven minutes in length. Shaun’s essentially wordless slapstick adventures are reminiscent of silent comedy or the “Road Runner” cartoons, with a gentle, whimsical spirit appropriate for even the youngest and most sensitive viewers, but witty enough to entertain parents and older kids.

On balance, “Back in the Ba-a-ath” may be even better than the first “Shaun” disc. Highlights include “Bathtime,” in which farm dog Bitzer tries to bathe the unwilling flock, and “Take Away,” in which the sheep embark on a mission for takeout pizza.

Also from Lyons/Hit this week are new DVD editions of Aardman’s three classic Wallace & Gromit shorts, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first Wallace & Gromit short, “A Grand Day Out.”

Strangely, the three new anniversary discs offer no more extras than were previously available from Lyons/Hit’s earlier one-disc edition, Three Amazing Adventures. In fact, they offer fewer extras: Both editions feature audio commentaries from writer-director Nick Park, behind-the-scenes featurettes and the 10 Wallace & Gromit “Cracking Contraptions” mini-shorts, but the one-disc edition features a couple of bonus “Shaun the Sheep” episodes.

Each of the 20th-anniversary editions sells for as much as the one-disc collection — and you can get the one-disc edition bundled with the first “Shaun the Sheep” disc for well under 20 bucks. So I haven’t got a clue why anyone would buy the 20th anniversary editions. Be that as it may, in any edition, Wallace & Gromit’s three amazing adventures are minor masterpieces, especially the latter two.

The high point is probably The Wrong Trousers, an astonishingly inventive sci-fi thriller spoof pitting our heroes against a criminal mastermind who is also a master of disguise. Almost equally good is A Close Shave, a comic tale of romance and noir-like mystery involving a sheep-rustling operation. A Grand Day Out, the first W&G short, is a lesser but charming pioneering effort. And the two-minute “Cracking Contraptions” are icing on the cake.

New this week on Blu-ray: The Passion of the Christ (2004, mature viewing) and Vatican list film Gandhi (1982, teens and up).

CONTENT ADVISORY: Shaun the Sheep: A couple of barnyard poop jokes. Wallace and Gromit: Some comic menace. All fine family viewing.

On Indian Lands

Still in the Year of St. Paul, the Register pays a visit to St. Paul Apostle of the Nations Church on the Yankton Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Stronger Schools

Msgr. Stuart Swetland of Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md., speaks to the Register about what it means to be an authentically Catholic college.